Taking in the Tunes at Vail’s Summer Music Festival – Want Beer With That?

NY Philharmonic at Vail Music Festival Photo credit: Chris Lee

NY Philharmonic at Vail Music Festival Photo credit: Chris Lee

Once upon a time, my advice on Vail was “great for winter, Aspen for summer” because while Vail’s humongous and beautifully groomed ski slopes were wonderful, the summer season languished. There were not a whole lot of cultural offerings years ago. Meanwhile, in Aspen (a two-hour drive away), music and lecture lovers had a broad menu of choices.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • Three leading American classical orchestras in residence
  • Jazz festival all summer in unique venues
  • Summertime in the Rockies is heaven
  • Good for lovers of music and mountains.

Now, Vail’s Bravo Music Festival is all grown up, and distinctive in its own right. The Gerald Ford amphitheater, a gem of a performance space, hosts three prestigious orchestras each year from late June to early August.

Confession: my favorite things about this festival are the stadium seating and food and beverage service, which allows concertgoers to have a beer with their Brahms and a cheeseburger with their Tchaikovsky.

If you’re an old-fashioned classical devotee, this probably sounds like the worst idea since the 12-tone scale. However, I can assure you that Vail listeners are such a refined lot, whether in chinos or cutoffs, they make hardly a sound when sipping or munching in their seats.

Vail Music Festival audience

Vail Music Festival audience

Orchestras, Chamber Music, Dance Troupes, Pop, Soul Concerts

Meanwhile you have the pleasure of listening to the Dallas, Philadelphia or New York Philharmonic orchestra with top-flight soloists. Vail also hosts chamber music in various venues throughout the Vail Valley, pop and soul music events, an international dance festival, and a “symposium” series that covers documentary films and discussions.

The only gripe I have about the Ford amphitheater is that its lawn, which is perched on a hill behind the seats, is neither free, as the lawn beyond the Aspen tent is, nor particularly spacious. Anyone allergic to Texans (an affliction commonly experienced in these parts; like every tourist Mecca, Vail has its subcategories of most visible visitors) should be forewarned that there are many of them in Vail in summer, but I find everyone on the same page when it comes to great music, and sometimes it’s a vacation for me to be away from my fellow always-in-a-rush New Yorkers.

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens Along the Way

Vail Jazz tent near the gondola Vail concertgoers amble along the pathways of Gore Creek toward the amphitheater at a non-aerobic pace, sometimes stopping at the lovely Betty Ford Alpine Gardens next door. One morning when I was there I took a yoga class within its borders. I like to think Betty Ford would have approved. Her husband? He would have been playing one of the many golf courses in the area. You can make reservations in advance at the Vail Golf Club not far from the amphitheater, which is open to the public. There are three other public courses in the Vail Valley.

As a bonus, Vail has an annual summer jazz festival, lasting from the end of June through Labor Day weekend. Well-known performers such as the Jeff Hamilton Trio, Byron Stripling, Wycliffe Gordon, Marcia Ball, Benny Green and Clayton Brothers have returned year after year. What’s I found great fun is hearing jazz in the middle of town: Vail Square (next to the gondola in Lionshead) and at Farmers Market.

Must you have a car to enjoy all this? No. Shuttle vans regularly make a run to Vail from both the Denver International Airport (two hours’ drive) and the Eagle Airport, which is even closer. In town there is a free bus service that works quite well, a pedestrian-only inner core, and bicycles for rent.

What all this has meant to me and others is a new appreciation of Vail; To paraphrase Wallace Stegner, it has created a music scene to match its scenery


Nearest airport: Eagle County Regional Airport (EGE) with direct flights on United from DFW and DIA.

Ground Transportation from DIA and EGE: Colorado Mountain Express, owned by Vail Resorts (bonus: free Wi-Fi in every van) or High Mountain Taxi

Lodging: check http://www.visitvailvalley.com/

Bravo Vail (Classical) Music schedule and tickets http://www.vailmusicfestival.org/index.php

If you are planning to sit on the lawn (typically $25 per person) order tickets in advance and arrive early. Don’t bring your own alcoholic beverage; the only ones allowed are those sold by the concession stand.

Jazz Festival schedule and tickets: http://vailjazz.org/performances/vail-jazz-festival.html

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